By on March 10, 2010

Who doesn’t like a proper wacky duel? Like the one where James May raced a Ferrari against a camel, or when the guys from TopGear did a “train vs Aston Martin” from London to Cannes?

As in the case of the proverbial hare and tortoise, when you set two unlikely opponents against each other, you get some entertaining results — and you might even prove a point. That’s what Germany’s AutoBild (print edition, March 5) tried to do when it tested the assumption that power = speed.

They raced the slowest E-class Mercedes station wagon against the fastest one, on German public roads, over a distance of 1,000 KMs. It was E63 AMG vs E200 CDI; 525 HP against 136 HP; 6.2L vs 2.1L displacement, V8 against Diesel-L4. 0-60 in 4.6 s vs 10.9 s. And not to forget, purchase prices of €42,483 against €108,409. So, what happened? Not what you might think…

But first, some more data and some rules. The AMG had its standard 250 km/h speed limiter left in place, and both cars had optional 80-liter fuel tanks fitted. Drivers had to stick to speed limits — this wasn’t supposed to turn into a Kanonenkugel-Run. The route was from Flensburg in the northern tip of Germany, down to the Austrian border. This is a relatively rural Autobahn that had plenty of unrestricted stretches and goes through only one major conurbation, in Hamburg.

The driver of the AMG wrote about an uncomfortably hard ride, and more to the point, reported that the super-station wagon fostered a stressful style of driving. You push it, as he wrote, up to the limit, then hit the brakes as soon as somebody who underestimates your speed moves into the left lane, then you push it again. In heavier traffic, the ratio of power-to-freedom was perceived as particularly irksome. The major concern, however, was the constant need to re-fuel. With a fuel consumption of 13.7 MPG, the AMG had to stop for gas after only 422 KM, seriously slowing down its average to 124 km/h.

Meanwhile, the Diesel enabled a flowing, relaxed driving style with a softer ride, lower noise, but yet enough power — the E200 CDI apparently felt quite comfortable in the 160-200 km/h zone. And the Diesel’s average of 28.7 MPG meant that re-fuelling could wait for a few hours, until after the 750 KM mark, at which point it had averaged a speed of 125 km/h.

So, despite all the long stretches where the AMG seldom had to slow down to speeds below 200 km/h, one of the world’s fastest station wagons reached the chequered flag in exactly 13 minutes before the oil-burner. Thirteen minutes gain, €184 additional fuel costs: is that what power amounts to?

As surprising as the results may seem, they match my experience in Europe. If you absolutely push it while driving in the dead of night, you can sightly better an average of 130 km/h, but your licence will be at risk. Take it slow, drive safe, and your average sinks to 110-120.

Note to AMG: on modern congested roads, power equals nothing more than frustration. If you really want people to associate pimptastic with fast, you need to equip your cars with 300L tanks — and preferably a built-in urinal.

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46 Comments on “Power: What Is It Good For?...”

  • avatar

    WHAT? No built-in urinal in a car worth over 108K Euros? What a rip!

    • 0 avatar

      I think you’re onto something, there. A hose with light suction that could be attached to your genitalia (sort of like the Stadium Pal, only powered) is something I would serious consider.

      Especially when you’re driving to, eg, Timmins or Thunder Bay and getting out of the car to piss means frostbite in -30C (or worse) weather. It’d also make me less concerned about coffee consumption, which is always a plus.

    • 0 avatar


      Perhaps this will solve your dilemma.

      Take “Stadium Pal” and remove the bag (or just get a condom cath like we did in the old days).

      Drill a hole through the floor of car (somewhere with airflow).

      Attach output end of hose to bulkhead fitting that leaves enough pipe in the airstream for Bernoulli to provide the “suction”.

      This was actually a pretty common rig back in the day of wanton cross-country motoring.

    • 0 avatar

      A solution from the world of aviation:

    • 0 avatar

      I guess once you’ve maxxed out the number of cupholders you can cram into a car, a built-in urinal is the next logical step.

  • avatar

    This has been my attitude towards fast cars forever. Completely pointless. And even in GERMANY of all places, where you can actually USE the performance of a car like the AMG. If both cars had the standard size fuel tanks, the AMG would likely have had to stop twice and it would have actually lost the race. Here in the always speed-limited and usually congested USA 525hp is especially pointless. All you need is enough HP and torque to maintain a comfortable high cruising speed. Breathtaking acceleration and warp-factor top speeds just don’t matter.

    It is always more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow. My 80hp Triumph Spitfire is the poster car for this. I drive it flat-out all the time and barely break the speed limit. Even my lowly 210hp Saab 9-3 is massively overpowered for our driving conditions. I rarely use more than 3K rpm whether accelerating or cruising in 6th. Might as well have a diesel and double the mpgs.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ll second this. Driving my uncle’s ’73 Spitfire through the Swiss Alps was a blast despite power and (especially) braking being closer to that of a bus’s.

      Power does not necessarily equate to fun, and that’s coming from a guy who rides a 1000cc sport bike.

  • avatar

    It’s the law of diminishing returns at work.

    Of course, it’s fun to feel that push of plenitude, and it’s convenient to be able to pass REALLY easily on two-lane roads. If you ever have the opportunity to drive them. That was the one thing about driving through Europe in the Peugeot 404 wagon in ’65-66. It was always frightening to me when my father would pass someone, and he was if anything, a conservative driver.

    I would have liked to see the drivers provide a (obviously subjective) fun quotient for their respective rides. Me: I’d rather have good handling than a lot of power.

  • avatar

    On April 1, 2005 Mercedes-Benz lined up three cars for a world record attempt on the high-speed circuit in Laredo, Texas. All completed 100,000 miles without problems. Each E-Class covered 20,000 laps driven 24 hours per day for 30 days. The only stops were to add fuel, change drivers, oil and tires when needed. The Mercedes-Benz E 320 CDI models established world records by covering 50,000 miles at 140.37 mph and 100,000 miles at 139.69 mph (all stops included in calculating average mph).

    Following their 30-day, non-stop trial on the five-mile oval circuit, the cars achieved a new record during a fuel consumption test drive. The standard E 320 CDI models covered 1,039 miles on one tankful of fuel resulting in a fuel consumption of only 59.46 mpg (UK gallons or 51.35 mpg in US gallons).

    I’ll take one of these over an AMG any day. It might even win an modern day Cannon Ball Run if they resurrected it.


  • avatar

    Don’t forget the old adage: “It’s more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow.”

  • avatar
    Cammy Corrigan

    Slight correction. The race between the Train and the Aston Martin DB9 was actually between, Guildford and Monte Carlo.

  • avatar
    Cerbera LM

    There’s too much traffic and too many construction zones to make much time on the autobahn. While I can average 70mph going to visit the folks (over 800 miles on relatively empty I29 & I35) it was still nice to see those autobahn unrestricted zones plant the foot on the firewall.

    GPS data from a couple autobahn drives with a Focus 1.8 TDCi

    The fastest Leipzig to Frankfort on a Saturday afternoon with little traffic and a fair amount of 3-lane autobahn.

    • 0 avatar
      Cerbera LM

      Here’s the GPS data

  • avatar

    This gets at one of my nits with most car reviews. They take every car to the track and test top speed, slalom speed, handling at 9/10th etc, like any of this really matters in the real world. To its credit, TTAC does not pollute its reviews with pseudo scientific mumbo jumbo.

    Cars you want to drive on a day to day basis in the real world in general are NOT the cars you would take to the track. Cars that are the most fun on public roads at legal (or near) legal speeds are not the ones with the biggest hp. My guess is that a list of cars that are the most fun on public roads would have a few things in common: they would tend to be light (3500 lbs or less) and have some minimal level of sophistication (which means no Lotus other than perhaps the Evora would make the list).

    • 0 avatar

      A case in point, I used to love caning my Mum’s Corolla back in the day… classic case of slow car fast, and your formula stands. Weighed all of 1000kg, no ac, no power steer, wind-up windows, 155 tyres from memory and a sohc, carbed 2e puching out all of 60-odd horse power. Great fun for any 16 year old!

  • avatar

    I agree – the power wars have led to some car so over powered that it detracts from their drivability. Some of the blame needs to go to the automotive publications that are obsessed with stats and lap times.

    The engine technology that I would like to see is “power on demand” – the ability to dial in as much as you feel is called for.

    • 0 avatar
      Eric Bryant

      “The engine technology that I would like to see is “power on demand” – the ability to dial in as much as you feel is called for.”

      Um, I think that device is available on several vehicles today, and is commonly called a “throttle”. It may come as a surprise to many users, but it’s not a switch and with just a bit of training, it can offer the ability to deliver exactly the power required for the situation. This of course requires sufficient “dynamic range”, which is why highly-flexible high-powered engines are so satsifying in their ability to lope around at 5 MPH or punch someone back into the seat at 100 MPH.

      Can it be frustrating to drive a fast car in a slow manner? Um, yeah. Am I going to select future daily drivers based only upon pragmatism? I certainly hope not – the few moments every week that I can go WOT for a few seconds are so satisfying as to be worth the torment of dealing with traffic, laws, and so forth.

      With regards to traveling across Germany at high speeds, it would seem that times have changed. Back in 2000, I managed to average 160 kph between Minden and Ingolstadt on a clear Saturday afternoon. I’ll also say that this was accomplished in an E-class with a supercharged I4, which was a combination that most of us would not considered to be “overpowered” ;)

  • avatar

    Well, to extend the point, if an E63 AMG isn’t any better (in real life driving) than an E200 CDI, at more than double the price, in the US, is an E350 any better than a loaded Honda Accord V6 at more than double the price?

  • avatar

    Gasp! A Diesel-positive story on TTAC! Surely the end is nigh!

    krhodes1 is right. With stock fuel tanks the CDI would have arrived about 45 minutes before the gasser. I’ve driven my TDI from north of Seattle to San Francisco in less than a tank and a half. The same trip in a gas powered VW a few years ago required 3 fuel stops.

  • avatar

    @Chuck and twotone

    Impressive. I’d like some of that.

    I did make it home to Boston from DC (450 miles) on a bit less than a tank (99 Accord 2.4 liter 5-speed), averaging probably >70, going briefly into Manhattan, and hitting traffic on the West Side Highway. 32-plus MPG

  • avatar

    I do know this route very well, as I had to drive several times between Munich and Kolding (north of Flensburg) with a comparable distance of about 1,000 km.
    Driving alone (with Rock and Roll music and a package of cigarettes on a cool and cloudy Sunday, without vacation traffic), it took me 7 hours using a Mercedes 190 E 2.6 (160 hp). Driving the same distance (without Rock music and cigarettes, same traffic conditions) but with a girl friend who needed to have a pee every second Autobahn toilet using a Mercedes 300 TE 24 (220 hp) took me about 11 hours.
    Bladder conditions against horsepower: 1:0

  • avatar


    You busted the laughmeter!!!

    Reminds me–in 1970 I drove across the US in an aged ’62 Ford Falcon. I kept it around 50mph. I rarely stopped–the thing was getting around 30mpg at that speed, and I can remember being passed by the same cars, going an estimated 80, sometimes 3 times over the course of an afternoon. (In Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada, in those days, there weren’t many cars on I80, so it was easy to recognize cars that had passed me.

  • avatar

    I have owned and driven many high powered cars, and my 184 hp BMW is by far the most fun I have ever had with my clothes on. It will be nice to see manufacturers devote some of the technology used to produce these high HP machines, to something we can actually use on a day to day basis. The desire for towns to suck the last bit of revenue out of drivers has made owning a high performance machine a real PITA.

  • avatar

    Excellent post!

    I live right next to one of the main arterial streets that is clogged with Microsoft commuters every evening. I laugh to myself as I walk along this street after work, faster than the $100K+ Porsches and what-have-you mired in the daily commute. What a waste, to have a car like that just to sit in the bumper-to-bumper for two hours a day! Give me a $1500 beater with a good stereo anyday . . .

    I have owned dozens of cars from a 300HP LTD to a 56HP Rabbit diesel, and I’ll have to say that the Rabbit has been one of the most fun cars to drive, especially in heavy traffic around here. On the highway, the speed-up-and-pass-option just isn’t there, it’s maintain (unless going up big hill) or brake. My main frustration in driving it was from high-horsepower cars merging in front of me at 20mph below my present speed, which took me a LONG FRICKIN TIME to achieve, dangnabit!

  • avatar

    Welcome to why my two favorite rides are my ’87 Porsche 924S and my ’69 Triumph Bonneville cafe racer. I’ll take handling over horsepower and acceleration any day.

  • avatar

    Now hold on… the fun quotient is more a factor of how a car drives than its relative delta-vee when you goose its goose-feathers. While this means that some slow cars are fun to drive fast, it also means that others are plain irksome.

    My office beater is an ancient 80 hp Isuzu Panther van that gets from zero to sixty in more time than it takes to read the previous paragraph… (say… 30 seconds) and while it’s relaxing to drive at 50 mph on a smooth highway, it’s no fun… and definitely not relaxing if the road is wet, bumpy or both. Especially if you need to turn or brake.

    On the other hand, a Mazda2 or a Honda Fit are tremendous fun. So much more so than sports cars with three times the power, since you can wring them out on twisty backroads without breaking the speed limit or your neck.

    It is kind of irritating to drive a car that can do 140 or more mph and to be stuck at 40-50. Modern cars have such long gearing that they sometimes feel like they’re lugging at anything less than 80. Even the diesels. (which is how I got my first and only speeding ticket… in a Hyundai Getz, for crying out loud) Old four-speed automatics and five-speed manuals, however, give you a cruising gear that’s just right for regular traffic.

  • avatar

    Nope! I’ll take the tight handling, high horsepower, gas drinking, fast car any day over the grandpa wagon. I like to be able to pass someone quickly and with confidence on a 2 lane highway, know that my car will corner, stop, and respond instantly when I need it to, and if that means a taut ride and no jiggling that’s fine with me. As for gas mileage, well, if you can afford the car, you can afford the gas. (Take note that the Prius driver was afraid to remove one of his hands from the steering wheel at 90 mph to engage neutral. Who needs a piece of junk like that?)

  • avatar

    Power matters, and here’s why: Stoplights. This is where most people do their “racing” from. Unless your vehicle is MUCH lighter than the more powerful vehicle you come across at a light you are going to lose. Sure you can tell yourself, “I’d destroy him at a track,” and you’d probably be right, but that’s not going to do you much good when hisher tailights are fading in the distance in one of the millions of miles of straightways in this wonderful country. Sure there are come curves in U.S., but your average Joe isn’t actively seeking them out to compensate for a lack of power. Sad (not really to me), but true.

    • 0 avatar

      Seriously? What is this, 1955 and you are racing for “pinks”? In the real world who races away from the lights? Frankly, I can change up at 3K rpm using 1/2 throttle in my Saab and leave 95% of traffic in the dust. And that is in New England, where people actually drive like they have a place to be. I drive in the Midwest and it always feels like everyone is asleep they drive so incredibly slowly. I travel 30 weeks plus a year for work so I get to experience just about everywhere.

    • 0 avatar

      Your car does 60 mph in 5 seconds? Not on the street, with less than perfect traction and a need to keep your clutch in shape. And in a modern, full-sized car, you’ll be doing twice the speed limit before you even start to get a tingle down there.

      Fun is getting to 30 mph in the same 5 seconds with tiny 165 section tires squealing for their lives, in a car that feels like it’d fall apart at 60 mph. (solely from the road noise and mechanical racket… it doesn’t actually have to fall apart).

    • 0 avatar

      Which is why old Miatas are so popular with track junkies, despite being slower than a Toyota Corolla. You can’t find a more visceral driving experience on anything with four wheels that isn’t much more expensive or non-road legal.

  • avatar

    Power is primal, testosterone-producing, shit-eating grin type of stuff. There is no replacement.

    Of course this is true. Power is mostly a pissing contest. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to ask for less power in a car. More isn’t always better, but it is always more.

  • avatar

    is an E350 any better than a loaded Honda Accord V6 at more than double the price?

    In my experience the biggest difference between the Accord and the E350 is ride quality. The Mercedes is just infinitely better in that regard.

  • avatar

    I can see where the general direction of this discussion is going, and, I agree with it; I would not expect to actually get anywhere significantly faster in a high powered machine. Any car nowadays can reach highway speeds easily, within a few seconds of one another, so fuel or rest stops would easily make up the time difference on a long trip.

    However, I have to agree with Reclusive, also. For a while, I was adding about 75 hp each time I bought a car. I had 78 hp in the ’70’s, 142 in the ’80’s, and 232 in the ’90’s. Then I dropped to 180 hp in my ’00 TT, and the fun level dropped back too. Acceleration is what is fun to me, and this car just lacks something in this area. My wife’s WRX puts a much bigger grin on my face when I drive it.

    On the other hand, I do enjoy the compliments I get on the TT. I would imagine that many people who buy super high horsepower cars do it more to show off to family or co-workers then they do to actually travel at high speeds, at least in the U.S. (I call our yearly family Seder “Car Wars.”)

  • avatar
    johnny ro

    Tonight I got passed coming out of a green light by black Chrysler 300 wagon with big exhaust, maybe SRT version. Loud car. He stomped that automatic from 20mph, swerved illegally over the line to pass me and another car, hit about 80 in a 35, stamped his brakes, and settled politely to 20 over the limit, holding 200 feet in front. Idling, basically. Boston big dig tunnel.

    I need that sort of thing to sweep cops from out front and from behind. I think they called it “Wild weasel” in Air Force a while back. You launch an expendable noisy bogy to catch the flak radar, and you sail on through.

    It would be fun to take one out with someone else’s license. A friend rented a superbird around 1975 and put 300 miles on it in one day doing that.

  • avatar

    Decades ago, Car and Drive magazine, as I recall, had two cars, one powerful, one not, drive across the USA or perhaps a merely a distance of a few thousand miles. The Ford LTD and the other car got to the destination either about the same time or close to it. Engine power simply didn’t matter, as most of us have discovered. Getting from point A to point B is not about drag racing or carving canyons. People choose comfort over top speed and acceleration, both of which are costly.

  • avatar

    I actually experienced this when i lived in Germany. I drove both a Porsche 911 and a Citroen DS 21. Once the initial thrill of driving over 120 mph was achieved I had much more fun in the Citroen. Especially when I would demonstrate the capabilities of the Citroen’s suspension to visiting Americans by driving up onto the curbed sidewalk at 35 mph and the car remained level with only a thump heard when the right side tires would go up onto the sidewalk.

  • avatar

    I drive a Diesel VW Jetta, hyper mile mildly and average 53MPG…with my best mileage (in the 60+ range) in the country commute to work around 40MPH. I look far ahead. I don’t rush up to red lights, I drive on the shoulder to let those pass that want to do just that. I end up hardly braking at all, I see the scenery a lot and I arrive relaxed and about 10-15% later than I would if I has driving the limit plus 10MPH. Big deal. I’m realizing how crazy all this Type A driving is.
    Sure, I enjoy performance driving…my preceding car was a chipped VR6 GTI Golf that got half the mileage and was a blast to drive. But.
    Funny thing is this sort of limit or under driving is seen as anti-social in a world of Type A people “getting ahead”. Would somebody please put Valium in the water system? We gain so little by going to the wall…….
    As for driving all-out in a small car, the drive of my life was adolescence in a T40 Bugatti http:/ with a fourbanger that did the loveliest drifts. Top speed maybe 60+, but the joy was driving country road around 40.

  • avatar

    I bought a “sports” car (05 STi) but kept practicality in mind. (Yep I can hear all you guys snickering abought the practicality of an STi).

    To merge onto the highway next to my house, it’s a half circle that ends (with NO STRAIGHT) merging into the right lane where people are going 60-70. Let me just tell ya it’s HAIRY in a slow car, easy on my sport bike (as I can take the onramp just under what traffic is going at) and fun in my sports car.

    Coming out of the turn in 2nd at 40+ I floor it to get up to the speed of traffic so someone doesn’t nail me.

    In winter when people drive more slowly with lots of snow on the ground, I can maintain the speed limit or slightly faster (assuming traffic isn’t going 1/2 my speed) with dedicated winter tires and AWD.

    There is a reason to have a well accelerating car…and IMHO, my on ramp is reason enough for me.

  • avatar

    Onramp? 40 mph – 60 mph? Meh… all that takes is tires and about half of the STi’s ponies.

    • 0 avatar

      How can you comment on how many ponies are needed unless:

      1) have driven the same ramp
      2) Know how tight the curve is before the “end” of the curved onramp
      3) Know if the onramp is up or downhill or flat
      4) Know how much road I have to switch from 40-70mph to merge

    • 0 avatar

      If you’re taking the curve at 40 mph on all-season tires, it’s not that tight. 70 mph is a bit of stretch from there, and it’s probably uphill, but anything that does 0-60 in the 8 second range should be able to do that within a hundred yards.

      Begs the question… how does everyone else who lives there avoid dying a fiery death when merging?

    • 0 avatar

      We don’t take it on all season @ 40mph. We go a lot slower normally. Our daily driver is 0-60 in about 11-12, and we end up travelling either not during rush hour, or stopping & waiting for a break in traffic where we can hammer the accelerator. There aren’t alot of people out where we live ((town of sub 30k). I’d imagine other people stop & wait or stupidly merge in at slower speeds causing everyone to slam on the brakes.

      Btw: I take it at 40+ on performance tires (potenza re070/summer) in the summer or slower during the winter (dunlop winter sport) in the STi. No way I’d buy “no-seasons” for that car. We can get away with accelerating and hitting the ramp slower during winter/snow since people around there drive MUCH slower (I’ve seen sub 30mph) if there is any moisture.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    This is really the wrong test, if you think about it for more than 10 seconds. Making time in a freeway/autobahn environment is about consistent speed . . . and there’s no freeway or autobahn anywhere that has so little traffic (never mind the police) that it is possible to make a consistent speed in excess of the capabilities of just about any reasonably decent car — AMGs, BMW Ms and their ilk are unnecessary. The top speed and acceleration advantages they offer are neither needed nor usable in this environment.

    On the other hand, take a trip on a mountain 2-lane like, say, between here in The Capital of the Free World and Davis, West Virginia (look it up; highest town in the state) and the additional power (power=acceleration) becomes quite useful. It is the difference between being able to pass a slower vehicle on a short straight section of road (possibly going uphill) and having to wait for a downhill or longer straight section. To be sure, neither the super-powerful vehicle nor the average powerful vehicle will record a blistering average speed (in absolute terms), but in relative terms, the super-powerful vehicle may be significantly faster (and being about 220 US miles, neither vehicle is likely to need refueling during the trip).

    IMHO, the more serious question is not not how much horsepower is too much, but rather, how much cornering force capability is too much, given that achieving maximum lateral acceleration seems to involve punishing tire/suspension combinations.

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